you pay attention to your inner monologue with which you analyze and interpret your experience, you will notice that many times each day you are judging the behavior of others. These judgements are based on a set of rules about how people should and should not act. People who behave according to the rules are right, and those who break the rules are wrong. You assume that people know and accept your rules. When they violate your shoulds, their behavior seems like a deliberate break with what is correct, intelligent, reasonable, or moral.
So the first problem with shoulds is that the people with whom you feel angry rarely agree with you. Their perception of the situation leaves them blameless and justified. Their rules and beliefs always seem to exempt them from the judgments you think they deserve. The more you try to convince them of their wrongness and their failure, the more indignant and defensive they become.
The second problem with shoulds is that people never do what they should do. They only do what is reinforcing and rewarding for them to do. Shoulds are YOUR values and needs imposed on someone with different values and needs.
When you demand that people behave according to YOUR rules, you are violating reality in two ways. First, in most cases others will not agree with your values and rules. Their unique history and needs shape their perception in a way that justifies their behavior. Since you can rarely get others to agree that they are wrong, applying your shoulds to their behavior is an exercise in futility. Second, since behavior is shaped by the formula of needs minus inhibitions, should have almost nothing to do with it. Judging behavior according to your own arbitrary standard of right and wrong really seems to miss the point. The real issue is how much does this person need to act this way and what inhibiting influences, if any, might stop him.
Exercise 1: Stand in their shoes. When you are angry at someone, answer these 4 questions.
1. What needs influence him or her to act this
What beliefs and values influence him or her to act this way?
3. What aspects of his or her history (hurts, losses, successes, failures, rewards) influence this behavior?
4. What limitations (fears, health problems, lack of skills) influence this behavior?
If you don’t have all the information make up something that seems likely. The purpose of this exercise is to explain the behavior you don’t like from the other person’s point of view.
Exercise 2: Accurate Empathy. Imagine a dialogue between yourself and the person with whom you feel angry. Start by accusing him or her of acting wrongly, of violating some basic rule of conduct. Really try to articulate your should. Now imagine yourself as the other person, trying to answer your attack. Do your best to really become this individual, to see the world from his or her point of view. After you’ve answered as the other person, go back to your original feeling of anger and expand on your accusations. Keep up the attack. Now go back again and answer as the other person, really explaining his or her viewpoint. Do this at least three times. Notice how your feelings begin to change as you acknowledge the other person’s unique experience.